A white restaurant manager in South Carolina has been indicted by a Federal grand jury for reportedly enslaving and torturing a mentally disabled employee for more than five years.
Bobby Paul Edwards is accused of using “force, threats of force, physical restraint, and coercion” to intimate John Christopher Smith, a cook at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina.
Records obtained by The Washington Post show that Edwards, 52, was arrested Wednesday and charged with “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking.”
If convicted he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. He will also have to pay restitution to Smith.
The disturbing details of Smith’s alleged enslavement were documented in a federal lawsuit civil attorneys filed on his behalf in late 2015.
Smith, 39, was diagnosed with a mild cognitive disability and had worked for more than two decades without issue at the restaurant. His job included simple tasks such as washing dishes, busing tables and cooking food.
However, that all changed in 2010 when Edwards took over as manager.
Edwards would reportedly force Smith to work exceedingly long hours, seven days a week, with little or no pay, no benefits and no vacation time. Smith would leave work some days so exhausted that he had to be carried home and “physically fed drink and food.”
Smith described the experience as a nightmare. He said Edwards would call him racial slurs, and threaten to “stomp” his throat and beat him “until people would not recognize him.”
He also accused the manager of assaulting him regularly, sometimes taking him to the back office or restaurant freezer to keep customers from noticing.
In the lawsuit, Smith said Edwards once dipped a pair of tongs in hot grease and scalded the back of his neck. And whenever he didn’t bring out the buffet fast enough, Edwards would take him into the back of the restaurant and beat him with a belt buckle.
The abuse Smith suffered had him so afraid “that he felt coming forward would be fruitless” and bring about “more aggravated abuse or even death.”
All the while, Smith lived in a roach infested apartment behind the restaurant his attorneys described as “sub-human,” “deplorable” and “harmful to human health.”
Smith said Edwards told him that he kept more than $30,000 of his earnings in a bank account, but he was never paid any of it nor did he have access to it.
According to the complaint, the restaurant reported that Smith earned less than $1000 per quarter despite working 18-hour days.
Edwards’ brother, Ernest J. Edwards, who is the owner of the restaurant was named in the suit as well. They are both accused slavery, discrimination and labor violations.
Both have denied wrongdoing.
An advocate for Smith whose daughter-in-law worked at the restaurant said waitresses at the J&J Cafeteria was aware of the abuse, but they were reluctant to come forward because they feard Bobby Paul Edwards.
Prosecutors alleged Edwards held Smith captive from September 2009 to October 2014, an even longer period than Smith’s attorneys outlined in their lawsuit.
“I want him to go to prison,” Smith told WMBF. “And I want to be there when he go.”